What does a Podcast Ad Campaign Look Like?


Welcome to The Yard, a blog by Backyard Media that explains the podcast industry and podcast advertising.

So we've defined what a podcast is as well as the nomenclature surrounding the podcast ad. But let's get down into the details about the content of what a podcast ad looks like, and furthermore what a podcast ad campaign can look like.

Below are some of the different formulations of podcast ads that are the most common types in the industry in 2017. With so much growth in podcasting in the last three years, the trends - about what ads work best and what even constitutes an ad - continue to evolve. The podcast ad market in 2017 does not look like the market in 2014. However, we can say that there are a few tried-and-true methods that produce definitive results for sponsors, and can inform how we build a podcast ad campaign.

Call and Response

The vast majority of podcast ads - approximately 73% - fall into one category: the "direct response" ad. Direct response ads can take a couple of different forms, but they perform the same function. They provide information about the product to the listener and entice them to take advantage of a product discount by using a unique code.

An analysis by FiveThirtyEight and Marketplace found that, of the top 100 downloaded podcasts in iTunes in 2015, nearly all ads fell under this category of direct response ad, either as a promotional code or a website URL (more on these in just a second). Podcast sponsors like direct response ads because they incentivize listeners to act on an offer - to go to the sponsor's website at the prompting of the host, receive a discount on the sponsor's product, and make a purchase. Sponsors also like direct response advertising because they can easily track the results.


The first and most ubiquitous type of direct response ad is the promotional code. These are similar to codes we see in email marketing or on website home pages for sales. In the context of a podcast ad, a promotional code will go something like this:

Step 1: The host reads the ad copy and provides a personal endorsement of the product.

Let's say the ad is on Backyard Media's podcast partner Bombshell. The host would introduce the sponsor, their product or service, and provide a personal anecdote about having used the product or why they feel it's valuable.

Step 2: At the end of the ad, the host gives the listener a one or two word phrase to use in order to access a special discount - usually a phrase that resembles the show's name or a running theme within the show.

Bombshell's host finishes the ad by reading the following ad copy:

"Don't forget to use the code BOMBSHELL at checkout to receive 15% off your first order!"

Step 3: The listener remembers the code and enters it at checkout when purchasing the sponsor's product.

Pretty simple, but effective. And for the sponsor, there's an extra step that they can take:

Step 4: The sponsor checks their website analytics to see how many listeners have used the promotional code associated with that podcast.

Direct response ads provide hard data. Sponsors can compare the response rate (and conversion rate) for a particular promotional code against their ad spend for a campaign (which, as we noted, is based on a podcast's CPM rate). This data can be particularly useful for sponsors running ads on multiple podcasts simultaneously, informing them about which podcasts have the most receptive audience for their ads. This can help them plan future ad buys that are more targeted and lead to higher conversion.


The second type of direct response ad that podcast listeners see is the vanity URL (or vanity website address). This special link also gives the listener a discount, but listeners find them easier to recall. Instead of remembering both the sponsor's website and a podcast-specific code in their mind, a vanity URL includes both the sponsor's website address and a podcast-specific tag.

Vanity URL ads will follow the same format as a promo code for Steps 1 and 2 above, but the wording will be a bit different. For example, a vanity URL on an episode of First Mondays, another Backyard Media podcast partner, might sound like this:

"Show your support for First Mondays by going to www.onlineshaveclub.com/FirstMondays and you'll receive 10% off your first month's subscription."

At this point, the vanity URL has a slightly different path from the promotional code ad.

Step 3: The listener goes to the special URL, which the sponsor has created as a unique landing page. The landing page will often mention the referring podcast ("Hello First Mondays fan!") and notify the listener that a discount has been applied for any qualifying purchase made after that page.

Like promotional codes, Vanity URLs provide the tracking data that sponsors need to understand how effective their marketing dollars are. The special landing page will receive traffic exclusively from the podcast, so any conversions resulting from that page can be taken as conversions resulting from that campaign.


Increasing Brand Awareness

Podcast ad campaigns don't necessarily need to include a promotional offer, however. A full 25% of podcast ads in 2016 were campaigns designed to increase brand awareness and brand recall. This type of ad can be a great alternative for organizations for which a promotional code doesn't make much sense, because they don't have a product that they can easily sell online. Organizations that benefit from a brand awareness ad campaign include:

  • Non-profits
  • Think tanks
  • Events and conferences
  • Universities
  • Companies who are hiring, particularly in specialized fields

Much in the same way that hosts lend credibility to a sponsor's products and services, organizations can link their brand to that the podcast in the eyes (and ears!) of the listeners. For instance, many ads on NPR involve brand awareness for philanthropic organizations. The content of these ads often include descriptions of the organization's mission statement, as well as any grants or projects the organization is currently running that relate in some way to the content of the podcast.

A brand awareness ad running on Backyard Media's partner Data Skeptic might sound like this:

"Working in the AI field? Personify is a platform for running iterative tests on all types of AI and machine learning software, used by over 300 firms in Silicon Valley. Learn more at www.personify.io"

And because Backyard Media's podcast partners fall into various content verticals, like national security or science & technology, sponsors can focus their brand awareness campaigns by buying ads within specialized audiences (e.g. law professionals or software developers).

Going All-In: The Branded Podcast

This is the final category of podcast ad, and it's a big one. A branded podcast is an ad-as-creative project that is conceived, developed, and executed with the backing of a single sponsor. The goal of a branded podcast is to create original content that the listener closely associates with the podcast sponsor.

A branded podcast does not need to be about the sponsor, however. In 2015, GE sponsored a branded podcast called The Message, an eight-part science fiction series about cryptography. It earned over 4.5 million downloads in the first few months, and developed such a cult following that GE followed it up with another podcast in 2016, called LifeAfter.

Every part of a branded podcast has the “seal” of the sponsor: the pre-roll/mid-roll/post-roll ad slots, the cover art, the credits at the end of each episode, and all social media for the podcast. There are no other sponsors on a branded podcast, so the ad load of a branded podcast can be both lower than other shows while still giving the sponsor a 100% monopoly of the ad slots.

It nearly goes without saying, but a branded podcast is a big undertaking. It requires a podcast production team and the full support of the sponsor for the duration of the podcast's development. But a branded podcast can have huge returns on brand awareness and product conversion for the sponsor. We’ve mentioned here and previously that podcast hosts lend their credibility to a sponsor’s product in a podcast ad. That's probably why the IAB reports that 65% of podcast listeners say that they're more inclined to buy a sponsor's product after hearing a podcast ad. That effect is amplified by orders of magnitude with a branded podcast. When a branded podcast develops an audience based around its creativity and quality content, that goodwill also flows to the sole backer of the podcast, the sponsor. Instead of merely joining in on a podcast for a couple of episodes, listeners see a branded podcast sponsor as the main reason the podcast exists in the first place.

Currently, branded podcasts are a small-but-growing segment of podcast advertising, comprising 2% of the market in 2016. This is likely due to the time and resources required to mount a branded podcast campaign. However, the last two years have seen plenty of examples of branded podcasts, like GE's The Message and Ebay's Open for Business. More players in the industry is starting to see the value that these campaigns can have on their sponsor's brand awareness and conversion rates, and podcast producers and company marketing departments are pushing the boundaries of what the branded podcast can look like and what it can accomplish.

Host-Read vs Produced Ads

In our last post, we mentioned that most advertisements are host-read, unlike on commercial radio or television. This is great news for sponsors, as they don't need to produce the podcast equivalent of a radio or TV commercial for their campaign. All it takes is a host reading a prepared script into their microphone, and you're good to go.

That being said, product ads do exist in the podcast ad space. In 2016, IAB reported that 40% of ads were produced and not read by the podcast host, an uptick from 37% in 2015.

The benefits of doing a produced ad include the ability for the sponsor to keep the message of an ad campaign very consistent in its wording or execution, as well as using compelling interviews with real customers (particularly helpful if the sponsor has already collected these for another marketing campaign).

Produced ads, when done well, can take on a life on their own. In 2014, for example, the blockbuster true crime podcast Serial - the most popular podcast of that year by far - featured a produced pre-roll ad for MailChimp. Here's what it sounded like: 

What makes this ad work so well? It's short, it has a lively script, and it includes a number of distinctive voices - most notably, the girl at the end who mispronounces "chimp." Also adding color and authenticity to the ad is the post-interview line by the woman saying she actually uses the service. MailChimp left all of these elements in the ad because it made the ad memorable and unique, so much so that the young girl's mispronunciation of MailChimp became an in-joke among Serial's audience. MailChimp reported significant increases in brand awareness and positive brand sentiment online after Serial aired, and ending up buying a season-long sponsorship for Serial's second season.

All of this is to say that, when done in a creative and interesting way, listeners can respond well to a produced ad. The production of the ad can be the responsibility of the sponsor's marketing team or the podcast production team, or it can be a collaboration. It all depends on the arrangements of the advertising campaign.


How long should my ad campaign be?

As we said in our last post, ads themselves run anywhere between ten seconds for a pre-roll and 90 seconds for a mid-roll. But the length of ad campaigns requires a bit more consideration. Some sponsors might be inclined to buy one or two ad slots to start out, and then judge the conversion rates of those small ad buys before deciding whether to start a bigger campaign.

However, research into the length of podcast campaigns shows that doing a one- or two-ad campaign does not achieve noticeable results, when compared with a longer, sustained ad campaign, no matter which type of ad campaign it is. The shortest a campaign should be, in order to have a measurable impact on brand recall, is a five-episode run on the same podcast. This length allows for listeners to hear the sponsor's message multiple times, but because most ads are live reads by hosts, listeners are less likely to get tired of the ads' content. Hosts will change up the wording, or add a different personal touch each time. Remember that listeners see podcast ads as integrated into the podcast's content, not as wholly separate from it.

Furthermore, spreading an ad campaign across at least five episodes of a podcast ensures that more of the podcast's audience will hear the sponsor's ad. While an Infinite Dial study showed that audiences listen to nearly all episodes of a podcast, podcasts are still on-demand audio files. This means a listener can choose to listen to episodes in any order. On the other hand, 77% of podcast listeners report listening to a new podcast episode immediately, so a podcast ad campaign will hit a good portion of the podcast's audience within the first 24 hours of the podcast's release, deepening brand awareness or producing direct response results over a short period of time.

Sponsors can agree upon any number of arrangements with a particular podcast: a campaign of a couple of episodes, or every other episode, or for podcasts that run in a seasonal format, sponsors can buy an entire season of ad slots. Podcasts provide a number of options for a sponsor looking to build an effective, customized ad campaign for their product or brand.

And that's our crash course in podcast advertising campaigns! We hope you're feeling more confident about the potential impact this amazing medium can have on your business.

Want to learn more about advertising with Backyard Media's podcast partners? Get in touch with us here.

Backyard Media is a marketplace for podcast advertising. We connect content creators of all shapes and sizes with awesome sponsors, providing them with the resources they need to do what they do best. Everyone wins.